The Looking Glass: Fear of What Others Think
Crucible Moments, The only way to develop product intuition, and Saying no.
This week’s tidbits (mid-bits? They seem longer than past issues):
Fear of what others think
The only way to develop product intuition
THE MAKING OF A MANAGER is 4 years old
From the Archives: A Simple Guide to Saying No
For paid subscribers:
Subscriber Mailbag: Moving from “doer” to leader
You don’t get to the top without working weekends
It comes down to judgment
I’ve grown hard
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Fear of what others think
Fear is what others think is what prevents smart, thoughtful people from:
Asking questions [because what if you’re the only one who doesn’t know?]
Giving true opinions [because what if you sound stupid?]
Asking for feedback [because what if that person says you suck?]
Pitching yourself [because what if you get rejected?]
Repinging for follow-up [because what if the other person thinks you’re annoying?]
Asking for help [because what if you seem weak and needy?]
Making the decision [because what if you’re wrong?]
Sharing ambitious dreams [because what if they laugh at you?]
As a result, you:
Limit your learning
Bury your authenticity and unique gifts
Slow your pace of growth
Close yourself to opportunities
Reduce your chances
Suffer alone and more frequently
React rather than direct your life
Make your world smaller
Everything worthwhile takes courage.
Have the courage to do it for yourself and your future, not others’ opinions.
The Only Way to Develop Product Intuition
The only way I know of to develop better intuition for your own product is to:
1. Constantly use your product as a real customer would
2. Constantly research your target customer
12 ways to make the above practical in your week-to-week:
1. Use the product daily as a real user would [15 minutes / day]
2. Watch one or two user research or replay sessions [10 minutes / day]
3. Check your key usage metrics dashboard [5 minutes / day]
4. Interview a prospective client and ask them to describe a specific workflow related to your product [30 min / week]
5. Email or slack 1-3 existing clients with a specific feedback question [30 min / week]
6. Read notes from recent sales calls or user interviews [30 minutes / week]
7. Read customer feedback queue tickets [30 minutes / week]
8. Read the latest data analysis on user behavior on your product [30 minutes / week]
9. Read industry blogs / articles related to your product area, ideally about either customer learnings or from the perspective of customers [30 minutes / week]
10. Explore competitor products as a real user world [2 hours / month]
11. Try selling the product yourself, or tag along on a sales call [2 hours / month]
12. Read 3 books a year relevant to the psychology of your customers [5 hours / week]
If you did EVERYTHING on the list above, it would take you 10-15% of your working hours. Doing half of them would be more like 5% of your week.
This is tiny investment for 1) honing your product intuition 2) making better prioritization decisions 3) gaining greater conviction in your work and frankly 4) having way more fun in your work.
Recently I was listening to my old colleague Alex Schultz on 20VC. Alex is the CMO of Meta and a pioneer in analytics and growth. It’s a must-listen episode, not only because Alex is so incredibly smart, not only because he shares deep truths about data and growth from crucible moments in Facebook’s history, not only because the combination of Harry and Alex’s British accents makes this episode a kind of ice cream sundae for the ears, but because Alex embodies what real support, what 1+1 > 2 really looks like.
Listen to the way he shares credit when Harry compliments him on being the guy Mark Zuckerberg credits with taking Facebook to 1 billion users.
Listen to the way he compliments his colleagues for the stellar job they’re doing today.
Listen to how he praises other members of the growth community and previous guests on 20VC for their wisdom.
Listen to how he expresses deep gratitude to Blake Ross and Mark Slee and the way their support of Prop 8 compelled him to come out.
Listen to him naming Annette Reavis, his HR partner, as a key mentor in his growth.
Once, Alex and I were in a meeting with a bunch of other Facebook VPs. The room was debating something with intense vigor. I had a point to make, but finding an opening in the conversation was like trying to turn onto an Formula 1 track while a race was in session. Finally, there was the briefest of pauses in the conversation and I rushed forward to blurt out my observation. About 3/4 of the way through, somebody else jumped in and started talking, armed with a counterpoint.
At that moment, Alex raised his voice, “Hang on, Julie wasn’t done yet!” he called.
I have forgotten what that meeting was about, what point I was trying to make, who cut in. And I am sure Alex has forgotten that he did that, a small moment during a typical meeting during a typical work day many years ago.
What I’ll never forgot is the hot rush of gratitude I felt at that moment. I’ll never forget that he did that for me.
And I am sure the only payment he’d ever want is that I do the same for others.
THE MAKING OF A MANAGER is 4 years old
As someone who works in data, I always joke to my friends that I have incredibly poor data visibility on how my book is doing. I don't know how many copies have sold, for example. I don't know how many people have read it.
Most importantly, I don't know how many people found it useful and what is the ratio of readers who found it useful versus not, which are the metrics I most care about! (And if not useful, I'd like to know why, so I can learn something in the process.)
What I have to go on are anecdotes. I'm grateful for every single person that has reached out about my book over the years, whether in person, through a DM, or with an Amazon review. It floods me with warmth whenever someone tells me they picked it up after they were promoted, or when their whole team read it and had rich discussions afterwards, or that they recommended it to a friend struggling with something similar. I similarly cherish the critical feedback because it helps me be aware of my own biases.
Now that the economy is very different today than the one I wrote the book in, and now that I have the vantage point of managing as a founder (remotely to boot!), I find myself thinking of all the things I'd add if I wrote it today: how to deal with layoffs, how to run a Zoom meeting, how to manage when a team isn't growing, and so much more.
But I also believe the core of great management hasn't changed. The success metric is helping a group get to an amazing outcome. The best strategy remains the same: find the right people. Treat them well. Design an environment where they can do their best work.
Above all, let us remember this: management is a skill, like any other. Honed and applied well, 1+1 can be so much more than 2.
I'm still on that journey. And I love it as much as ever. I hope past and future readers do too.
If you’re like me, you have an itch to say yes to every opportunity. Want to meet over coffee to chat about some new ideas for a start-up? Sure! Want to give a talk about the future of space monkeys? Sign me up! Interested in judging a competition for best ramen noodle art? Yes please!
Saying no can be unpleasant. It can feel like a fully decked out marching band (complete with snare drummers and baton twirlers) showing up in your inbox one day and you choosing instead to rain on their parade. Sometimes it’s a friend asking, and you don’t want to disappoint her. Often, it’s genuinely a very cool opportunity or something you’re really supportive of. You’d like to avoid coming across as someone who’s time is far too valuable for that (ie, one of those people who constantly complains about how busy she is) because in general, you’re touched someone thought of you to begin with.
Alas, at some point, you can’t or won’t choose to prioritize a request. That’s all right. It’s okay to say no. But how?
In some cases, declining is easy because the conflict is obvious. I’m out of town or I have something else going on at that exact same time.
When that’s not the case, and there’s nothing scheduling-wise to prevent you from saying yes, it can be harder. You could just not reply. I suspect most people who don’t reply (guilty as charged here) don’t because saying no in a nice, respectful way takes some crafting, and saying nothing at all is less effort. But then you’re just leaving things hanging, and that feels sloppy.
So, here’s my general strategy for how to say no:
Be honest and direct. A no is a no, and that should be communicated in the first or second sentence and not something that needs to be read between the lines.
Talk about what you are prioritizing instead. It doesn’t have to be detailed, but it should be true. Few things are ever no in a vacuum, so it tends to be about the tradeoffs, and people get that.
If you’re even the slightest bit interested in the opportunity but can’t pursue it at the moment, mention that the no is for right now. In the future, who knows? Don’t prematurely rule out possibilities if you think things might change.
Want some examples?
Too much going on at work: Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend your space monkey conference. November is a busy month for me as I have <a project shipping/a vacation coming up/lots of work obligations>, so I’m trying to minimize time away from the office.
Not a priority: I’m passing on chatting about space monkeys right now as I’m taking on fewer work-related meetings to focus on some personal goals/spending time with family/planning a wedding/running a marathon.
Happy with my current level of involvement in this area: I would love to <attend your space monkey conference/judge a ramen noodle art competition>, but I’m already signed up to <attend a jungle panda conference/judge a pasta statue competition>, and that’s enough for me at the moment.
Shit’s crazy, and now’s just not a good time: Apologies, I can’t be an extra in your space monkey movie. I’ve been running on empty and need some time to recharge this weekend.
Just not interested: I’m not the best person to help you with space monkeys because my current passion is deep-sea pigs.
Saying no shouldn’t have to be hard, especially when it gives you the opportunity to reflect on what you are prioritizing in your life. Don’t over-think it — you‘re saying no so that you can say yes to something else that you value. That’s not an excuse. That’s a reason anyone can understand.
Sidenote: the monkey in the photo is named Miss Baker and was the first animal successfully sent by the US into space.
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